Hiking Starter Kit – All You Need to Start Hiking for Less than $250

If you have read the About page then you know some of how my journey into hiking got started. A significant part of that decision had to do with affordability. I considered other hobbies and sports like rock climbing, biking and a few others but hiking appealed most to me and part of that appeal was the price. You can and will add to your gear through the years to make a perfect custom hiking gear kit. In fact, this year I got new shoes, backpack and tent. These were big steps. But in the beginning, all I needed and all I got was a backpack, sleeping bag and good shoes. That was enough to get started. The trails showed me what else I needed and I was able to add that as I went along. If you are planning on starting your journey down the hiking path this year then here is a collection of gear I recommend for quality and affordability as a Start Up package.

Footwear – Backpack – Sleeping Bag – Odds & Ends

Footwear

This is the most important piece of equipment you will buy, now and going forward. That doesn’t mean you have to get the most expensive gear. Get what you need for where you are at now. I was in the Army Infantry shortly after high school and learned the importance of taking care of your feet on the trail. That means good shoes and good, dry socks.

For shoes you can go two basic routes, low tops or high tops. Personally I like the high tops. Many of the mid south trails have a lot of loose rock on them and that means a lot of rolling and potential for turning ankles. High tops give me the extra bit of support I like. I also like the extra bit of protection from snakes while on the trail. (I am admittedly a bit paranoid in that area though.) For the money, Keen is a great shoe to purchase. As far as sizes go, I wear the same size in Keen as I do in Nike so a size 12 is a good fit in either for me.

If you need to try them on, head down to the local outdoor store. I would love it if you bought your stuff here at the web site but if there is one thing you are going to buy in person, I recommend it being the shoes. It’s best to get the perfect fit for you. Study up on it and don’t assume the salesman knows what he is talking about.

 

If you prefer a light low top shoe, I like Keen, Columbia and Merrell. Here are two great options. They aren’t going to offer the waterproof protection that a high top does but they are good shoes with good support for getting up and down the trail. The cool thing about low tops is that they are usually a bit cheaper than high tops. Also, both of these brands have a premium feature for hikers – light weight. For every pound of shoe weight you carry it is like adding another five pounds to your back pack. A good shoe is the best way to prevent injury and enjoy more hiking.

 

 

 

Next, get you some Smartwool socks. I can’t stress the goodness of this item and this brand enough. (I REALLY CAN’T STRESS IT ENOUGH!!!)  It adds additional cushion but also keeps your feet from getting too wet with sweat and that means less blisters. Also, buy at least two pair of socks and keep an extra pair in your backpack at all times. A dry pair comes in handy after having to push through a creek. Your feet will thank you.

 

Last in this section, get yourself some talcum powder and powder your feet up at each break. This will prevent blisters too. This is what they taught is in basic and it’s a trick I have kept with me.

 

Backpack

There are a lot of good backpacks out there. I have collected what in my opinion are the top three brands and some of their best backpacks on the gear page. You can head over to check that out if you like. I just bought a new Deuter after a lot of research and I will put a review of that up soon. I think this is going to be a really good bag but it is not necessarily what you need for your starter bag. You aren’t going to be starting with 30 – 50 mile hikes. So there is no need to invest in that much. I recommend North Face as a good starter bag. They are good, sturdy quality and relatively affordable. Be aware that your backpack and shoes are likely to be the most expensive items of your starter kit. When you look at backpacks, the number after the name represents the amount of liters the bag will carry. A 70 liter is usually for week long backpacking type of trips. Usually 35+ liters are good for weekend outings, smaller than that and you are looking at day hikes.

For a starter backpack I recommend planning for weekends. You may be planning on just day hikes but I assure you that after a while you are going to want to try a weekend overnighter. The North Face Terra is a good option. The North Face Terra 45 or North Face Terra 65 are both really good bags. The difference is that the 65 is a little bigger and about $20 more expensive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sleeping Bag

Last up you need a sleeping bag. These can get really expensive. A down sleeping bag is the warmest and lightest but also the most expensive. They can get up to around $1,000 +. For a starter kit there is no need for that, especially in the mid south. I recommend getting a Coleman mummy bag. These are relatively light and I have never gotten cold in one and I have done some pretty cold camping. They are not waterproof so you will need to take precautions if your are sleeping in the rain or hiking in the rain but they run less than $90. Since you are saving some money, buy a compression bag. This is going to help you cinch up the sleeping bag extra small into your back pack to keep the bulk of the bag from weighing down your backpack.

 

 

Odds and Ends

You are going to need some light. Just go by the Gear page and pick out what you think is best for your needs. It’s all relatively cheap. If you are hiking a lot by yourself a headlamp is going to save you some frustration.

You also need a hat. A lot of folks are going to run down to the store and get a $40 beanie. I don’t really need that. And that new stuff is going to lose its shine the first morning you wake up cold. I say just get one that fits your needs. Where are you hiking? That will determine a lot. Personally, I found mine from a guy in Alpena, AR who sets up and sales out of his trailer in the middle of town. It’s an old straw hat made of banana leaves that won’t get damaged by rain, has a broad brim to block the sun and spider webs, and is ugly as can be. I like all of that and I like that it’s my style alone. My wife laughs at me every time she sees me wear it.

Also, you need a hiking stick. Most of the state parks have these for sale in the ranger stations for city slicker suckers. I found a great one on my third trip out on the trails at Devil’s Den State Park. It was a big old root just waiting to be used and over the course of last year it saved me from getting wet many times will crossing rivers on a fallen log (I used it as a third leg). It was a great stick that I called my “prophet stick.” Unfortunately it was so great that it attracted the eyes of a thief who grabbed it out of the back of my truck one day last spring. I found another one at my friend’s farm here recently and I have carved my own likings into it. I say find your own hiking stick on the trail. There’s one out there waiting for you.

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